THIS was the year when the swagger returned to Cork hurling.
The only nagging concern is that Kieran Kingston’s departure will derail Cork at the top level, especially as the likes of Mark Coleman and Colm Spillane now carry the weight of expectation going into the new campaign.
Yet, whatever happens under John Meyler, there should be a confidence again across all the grades, from the Harty Cup upwards, that Cork teams are good enough to take on anyone. There’s a fine line between self-belief and arrogance but any outfit from Leeside without that bit of cockiness is on a hiding to nothing.
All that was happening without the type of sizzling performances that inspire the next generation of Cork hurlers. For a couple of years the likes of Tony Kelly, Richie Hogan, and Austin Gleeson were the flair players to copy, but now mini Rebels can mimic the stickwork of Coleman, Darragh Fitzgibbon, and minors like Brian Turnbull and Daire Connery.
The seniors’ provincial triumph was one of the sweetest of all time, given the calibre of the opposition, the style of the hurling, the fresh faces introduced, and the connection with the crowd. Patrick Horgan and Conor Lehane reasserted themselves as among the most naturally gifted forwards at inter-county level, while Anthony Nash, Damien Cahalane, Chris Joyce, and Alan Cadogan excelled too in Thurles, even if the All-Ireland semi-final on Jones Road was one that got away.
The minor games with Tipp were stone-cold classics, especially the replay on a Monday night at a heaving Páirc Uí Rinn. Though they ended up getting reeled in by the Premier in a tense conclusion, the electricity generated among the crowd midway through the second half was incredible.Particularly by coach John Dwyer's joy on the sideline at a well-worked team score finished by full-back Seán O'Leary Hayes and Connery wheeling away waving his finger in the air after landing a long-range gem. Having been hugely impressed by Connery at wing-back for the Na Piarsaigh's minors in 2016, he was a joy to watch at midfield.
The U21s’ loss to Limerick was pretty frustrating but in mitigation, Fitzgibbon and Luke Meade were sorely missed. And defeat couldn’t take from Deccie Dalton’s performance and nerveless penalty against Waterford in Walsh Park.
Only the hardcore travelled down for the U21 win, which made it more memorable.